I have a precise method for making a box of macaroni and cheese: I boil the water, cook the macaroni for a couple minutes shy of the package instructions, drain it, then return the noodles to the pot and add the butter, stirring so it melts over the mac. I then sprinkle in the cheese powder, and stir again to dissolve as much of it as I can with the melted butter. Then I splash in just enough half & half to dissolve any remaining cheese powder clumps, never the full amount called for on the box, because I do not like soupy mac.
But last night, due to fairly distracting headache, I added the butter to the very hot pan before the drained noodles. It foamed and sputtered violently, as butter usually does when it is met with high heat, right before it starts to brown. I decided to use this “mistake” to my advantage, and swirled the butter around while it continued to hiss and foam, until I noticed a distinctly nutty smell and the butter took on a deep, golden brown hue. I scraped up a few solids that had gotten stuck to the bottom with a spatula, then added the macaroni noodles that had been waiting patiently in the colander, along with the cheese powder and a few splashes of half & half.
It was — I am happy to say — the best pot of Kraft I ever made. The rich, nutty flavour of the browned butter was the perfect counterbalance to the tangy, factory-made cheese, making the whole thing taste much less “manufactured” and a little more homemade. Browning the butter made its flavour far more pronounced, moving it from the background to the front, without completely obscuring the bright orange powder. She was no longer a chorus girl, but a co-star.
Kraft is my convenience macaroni of choice, but you can add browned butter to any brand, and you can add it to shells, spirals, or any boxed pasta, really. It makes your mac more indulgent, without requiring much extra effort, and that, my friends, is my favourite kind of hack.